The System Is Not Built for Teachers to Have an Opinion

Jun 23, 2021 12:00:00 AM

by Lindsey Jensen

At the close of the 2020-2021 school year, I experienced the most significant “break-up” of my life. The following is my unexpected farewell to teaching ...

Dear Teaching Career,

I’m not really sure what to say, so I suppose I’ll just speak from my heart. I tried to ignore the signs, but I can say with certainty that it’s time for me to move on. Please let me explain … 

We’ve shared a beautiful journey for the past 13 years; however, there are things I can no longer ignore in our relationship. I wish I could say, “It’s not you, it’s me.” But that would be a lie. 

However, it’s not really ‘you’ either. It’s literally everything else that makes our relationship so much more complicated than it should be—politicians, society, a collective lack of respect for our profession, an inequitable system, attacks on anti-racist educators, etc.

I never thought this day would come. I thought we’d go the distance—I really did. In fact, there was a time when I would have done anything for you—when I would have compromised and sacrificed every other aspect of my life to stay, including my personal life and my mental health. But [pullquote]the past year exacerbated the problems in our love affair, and I feel like I’ve lost my voice.[/pullquote]

To be painfully honest, I’ve admittedly passed judgment when other educators decided to end their relationships with their own teaching careers by leaving their classrooms. I never thought I would be one of them. But here I am, packing up room 26, turning off the lights and closing the door for the last time. 

This was not a decision I took lightly. In fact, it is one of the top three most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, surpassed only by my decisions whether or not to have children and whether or not to pursue a doctorate (sidenote: Children—No. Doctorate—Yes).  

I experienced an overwhelming amount of indecisiveness, followed by subsequent tears and ambivalence. Perhaps if I were older, closer to retirement, I might consider staying? I might stick it out? I mean, who wants to start over?

And just to be clear, we’re not alone. Lots of relationships are experiencing similar struggles at the close of this school year.

In fact, in a recent study conducted by EdWeek, 54% of teachers said that they are either “somewhat” or “very likely” to leave their classrooms within the next two years, and 84% said that teaching had become “more stressful” since the pandemic.

Ultimately, I had to ask myself the following questions: 

  • What do I want my legacy to be? More than anything, I want to empower the next generation of educators to raise their collective voice—to be better equipped to advocate for our profession and for our students—so that they don’t experience the heartache I’ve felt this year.
  • Where can I have the most impact? Most would assume that I have the most impact in my classroom, and the irony that I’m leaving is undeniable. Yet in order to accomplish the aforementioned goals, leaving my classroom feels like a requirement. 

And I know this won’t make sense to you, but I also know that I can’t be loud and unapologetic in my efforts to advocate for our profession from the confines of my classroom any longer. [pullquote]The system is not built for teachers to have an opinion that challenges the status quo[/pullquote], and there is a reason why so many teachers feel they have to leave their classrooms in order to engage in educational advocacy. You’re right, it’s not fair. But it’s just the way things have to be for now.

In the spirit of transparency, I’ve met someone else and I’m leaving to work in a space where I can have a fearless, unapologetic voice for education—without fear of consequences and repercussions. But please don’t take this rejection personally. 

Our time spent together was beautiful, and it’s something to be proud of. Nevertheless, this will be my last letter—the sense of finality I require to officially move on to the next stage of my professional life. 

We’ll always have fond memories to reflect on—mainly the relationships we built with students. And just to clarify, I’m not leaving because I don’t love my students. I certainly do, without question. In fact, they are the reason I’ve stayed this long. 

It’s not that I don’t love you. I certainly do with all my heart. Truth be told, my life is richer for having you in it, and I will always love you. I am heartbroken, but for now it’s best that I change course so that I can better advocate for our profession. 

I’ll never forget you, and I’ll always cherish our time together. In so many ways, you will forever be the greatest love of my life. Until we meet again … farewell.

Lindsey Jensen

Lindsey L. Jensen is the 2018 Illinois Teacher of the Year and the 2020 National Education Association Foundation for Teaching Excellence Illinois Awardee. She is Vice-President of the Illinois State Teachers of the Year Chapter, and she serves on the Illinois State Board of Education State Preparation and Licensure Board as an Illinois Education Association Representative. Lindsey is a Teach Plus Policy Alum, and she is an Advisory Board Member for the Region 9 Comprehensive Center. She has over 15 years of educational experience, holds a bachelor’s degree in speech communication from Southern Illinois University, a master’s degree in secondary English education from Oakland City University, and she is finishing her doctorate in the fall of 2020 in teaching and learning from Illinois State University. In her free time, Lindsey travels the country speaking and engaging in educational advocacy. She has delivered over 100 keynotes at Northwestern University, SXSWEdu, The National Association of Teacher Educators Conference, The Raising Student Achievement Conference, and WITCon. She is a proud public school teacher and academic dean in Dwight, Illinois.

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